1,000 killed, 4,800 injured in 2 weeks of bombing of Ghouta near Damascus, MSF says

Syrian and Russian soldiers and officers accompany journalists on a press tour at a newly-opened crossing in the southern tip of the rebel-held Eastern Ghouta enclave linking the town of Jisreen to the government-controlled suburbs of the capital Damascus on March 8, 2018. / AFP / LOUAI BESHARA
Updated 09 March 2018
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1,000 killed, 4,800 injured in 2 weeks of bombing of Ghouta near Damascus, MSF says

LONDON: Medical facilities supported by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) have received over 1,000 dead and 4,800 wounded in Syria's rebel-held Eastern Ghouta in just two weeks, the organisation said in a statement.
There group said the figures date back to the start of Ghouta attacks and covers the period from February 18, until March 4 are an “underestimate" the statement said.  
Fifteen out of 20 MSF-supported facilities set up in Damascus suburb have been shelled or bombed in the continuing government offensive, according to MSF. "MSF urgently repeats its call for an immediate ceasefire to be implemented and for medical supplies to be allowed into the besieged area to treat the sick and wounded," the organisation said.

Earlier Thursday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that more than 13 syrians were killed in renewed government airstrikes and bombardment of various town in eastern Ghouta. The London-based human rights group said that more than 900 Syrians had been killed in Eastern Ghouta since the Assad regime renewed its efforts to take control of this suburb of the capital damascus, an area where early protests against the government began more than seven years ago. 

A UN resolution calling for a humanitarian truce in the Damascus suburb has failed to take hold, despite repeated calls to Russian President Vladimir Putin to help stop the onslaught. 
A top UN aid official appealed to the Syrian government and its Russian backers for a cessation of hostilities in eastern Ghouta on Thursday when a second convoy with desperately needed aid was postponed after government forces split the enclave in two, creating an evolving, unpredictable situation on the ground.
Jan Egeland said it is “impossible” to deliver aid to the rebel-held eastern suburbs of Damascus amid the current fighting, which he described as the worst ever.
“I’m very worried for a repeat of very many of the bad things we saw in the final days of the battle of Aleppo but to some extent this is worse,” he told The Associated Press in an interview from Oslo, Norway.

Recapturing eastern Ghouta, a short drive away from the Syrian capital, would mark the biggest victory yet for President Bashar Assad in the seven year war. It would also be the worst setback for rebels since the opposition was ousted from eastern Aleppo in late 2016 after a similar siege and bombing campaign.

Eastern Ghouta is larger and more populated, with some 400,000 people believed to be living there, trapped under a relentless air and ground bombardment and a crippling years-long siege. More than 900 people have been killed just in the past three weeks.

In rapid advances overnight, troops and allied militiamen seized more than half of the area, including a stretch of farmland, isolating the northern and southern parts of the territory, cutting links between the rebels and further squeezing opposition fighters and civilians trapped inside, state media and a war monitor reported.
Videos released by the opposition’s volunteer rescue group, also known as the White Helmets, captured the inferno in eastern Ghouta, including a shell exploding as an ambulance sped through the street after loading in an apparently wounded person.

The most densely populated areas in eastern Ghouta are still under rebel control, including the towns of Douma, Harasta, Kfar Batna, Saqba and Hammouriyeh. As government troops bombed their way into the town of Beit Sawa on Wednesday, many terrorized civilians fled east to the towns of Arbeen and Hammouriyeh.
“The fact is we have seen possibly the worst fighting ever in eastern Ghouta in these last 24 hours and in that kind of situation you cannot deliver anything,” Egeland said. “It is impossible to cross into the frontline and to go in to help desperate civilians, women and children that we know are on the starvation point.”
Egeland said there are intensive diplomatic efforts for a humanitarian pause that would lead to the evacuation of 1,000 priority cases for medical treatment and expressed hope that another convoy would be able to make its way there Friday. He called on the Syrian government and Russia as the stronger parties, but also on countries that have influence over the armed rebel groups, to secure a period of calm.
Egeland also confirmed there are talks between the parties on the possible evacuation of fighters and civilians which he said aid workers are not party to.
 


Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

Updated 19 June 2018
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Erdogan faces biggest challenge in tight Turkey polls

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday faces the biggest ballot box challenge of his 15-year grip on Turkey, seeking to overcome a revitalized opposition against the background of an increasingly troubled economy.
A self-styled heavyweight champion of campaigning, Erdogan has won successive elections since his Islamic-rooted ruling party came to power in 2002, transforming Turkey with growth-orientated economic policies, religious conservatism and an assertive stance abroad.
But he appears to have met some kind of match in his main presidential rival Muharrem Ince, a fiery orator from the left of the Republican People’s Party (CHP) who has been unafraid to challenge Erdogan on his own terms.
The intrigue is deepened by the holding of presidential and parliamentary elections on the same day under controversial constitutional changes spearheaded by Erdogan which will hand the new Turkish president enhanced powers and scrap the office of prime minister.
The vote takes place almost two years after the failed coup aimed at ousting Erdogan from power, a watershed in its modern history which prompted Turkey to launch the biggest purge of recent times under a state of emergency that remains in place.
Some 55,000 people have been arrested in a crackdown whose magnitude has sparked major tensions with Ankara’s Western allies.
Only a knockout first round victory for Erdogan and a strong parliamentary majority for his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will be seen as an unequivocal victory for the Turkish leader.
And many analysts believe Ince can force a second round on July 8, while AKP risks losing its parliamentary majority in the face of an unprecedented alliance between four opposition parties.
“This is not the classical opposition that he has been facing for 15 years and which he more or less succeeded in managing and marginalizing,” said Elize Massicard of the French National Center for Scientific Research.
“It’s a new political dynamic that has grown in magnitude,” she said.
The opposition was already boosted by the relatively narrow victory of the “Yes” campaign in the April 2017 referendum on the constitutional changes.
Most opinion polls — to be treated with caution in Turkey — suggest Erdogan will fall short of 50 percent in the first round.
Erdogan remains by far Turkey’s most popular politician and inspires sometimes near-fanatical support in the Anatolian interior, where he is credited with transforming lives through greater economic prosperity.
“A great Turkey needs a strong leader,” says the slogan on election posters of Erdogan plastered across Turkey.
But the elections come at a time when Turkey is undergoing one of its rockiest recent economic patches despite high growth, with inflation surging to 12.15 percent and the lira losing 20 percent against the dollar this year.
Erdogan brought the elections forward from November 2019 in what many analysts saw as a bid to have them over with before the economy nosedived.
The opposition has sought to play on signs of Erdogan fatigue and also echoed Western concerns that freedom of expression has declined drastically under his rule.
For the first time, Erdogan has been forced to react in the election campaign as the opposition set the pace.
He had to deny quickly when Ince accused him of meeting the alleged architect of the 2016 failed coup, Fethullah Gulen. Erdogan promised to lift Turkey’s two-year state of emergency only after the CHP had vowed the same.
“The opposition is able to frame the debate in the election and this is a new thing for Turkish politics,” Asli Aydintasbas, fellow with the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) said.
“A party that has been in power for so long is, in an economic downturn, going to experience a loss (in support) and lose its hegemony over politics,” she added.
While the CHP sees itself as the guardian of a secular and united Turkey, Ince has also sought to win the support of Turkey’s Kurdish minority who make up around a fifth of the electorate.
A rally held by Ince in the Kurdish stronghold of Diyarbakir in the southeast attracted considerable attention. “A president for everyone,” reads his election slogan, over a picture of the affably smiling former physics teacher.
The opposition, which argues that Erdogan has been given a wildly disproportionate amount of media airtime in the campaign, has sometimes resorted to creative and even humorous campaign methods.
The Iyi (Good) Party of Meral Aksener, once seen as a major player but lately eclipsed by Ince, put out humorous messages on Google ads and even devised a computer game where light bulbs — the AKP symbol — get destroyed.
Selahattin Demirtas, the candidate of the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP), has campaigned from his prison cell following his jailing in November 2016. He made an election speech on speaker phone through his wife’s mobile but was allowed give a brief election broadcast on state TV, albeit from prison.